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  • Jess Brown

RIP Toby Keith – What’s Collective Grief and What Should You Do With it?

RIP Toby Keith. I’ve met him twice on USO tours. Once in Afghanistan, and once in Africa. This photo is from when he came to Africa in 2012. He did a Meet & Greet during the day. I just remember him being so humble and thanking every one of us for our service. He waited until every single person that wanted a photo or autograph got one. Then he went on and did a rockin’ concert that night. He will be missed”- Retired USAF Airman

“The childhood cancer community is mourning the loss of @tobykeith today upon hearing of his passing last night. He was an amazing artist, but we know him as a man who had a huge heart for children fighting cancer. His @tkfoundation1 supports the OK Kids Korral, which provides a beautiful place to stay for families who are travelling to OKC for treatment of childhood cancer. We hope everyone will support the Toby Keith Foundation so that his legacy and the OK Kids Korral will remain strong for many years to come.” #childhoodcancer #childhoodcancerawareness #tobykeith –@KclubKindness

“Though always a proud resident of our suburb Moore, Toby Keith leaves a strong legacy in OKC as well. If you wanted to find Toby Keith in the 1980s, you might have looked on the field at Taft Stadium, where he played for the Oklahoma City Drillers football team. As he pursued his music career, he and his band were frequent guests on OKC stages, and he even memorably played the theme song for KWTV. After Toby became a superstar, he invested in the community. He also generously gave back to the community, notably supporting Kids Korral and our Children’s Hospital. We will always be grateful for Toby Keith’s legacy in OKC. We send our deepest condolences to his family.” – @MayorDavidHolt

“Toby Keith was more than a Country Music Icon!! He loved America, the Troops, Oklahoma, the Sooners, golfing, fishing, and so much more. He was a great man, and someone I had the privilege to call a Friend. We will all miss you TK! (heart) RIP - @DustyDvoracek

What is Collective Grief?

Collective grief happens when a community, society, village, or nation all experience extreme change or loss. Collective grief can manifest in the wake of major events such as: war, natural disasters, or others that result in mass casualties or widespread tragedy.

Like individual grief, there is a feeling of lack of control that comes with collective grief. We were unable to prevent the loss or change, and we feel powerless in its wake.

And not only do we experience this collective grief after any time of national crisis, but we can also feel what is known as anticipatory grief as the crisis continues on. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get when we are–in a way–preemptively mourning and grieving. We see the loss around us, and we see that the problems have not been fixed, so we know more is coming down the line.

And when whole communities start to experience collective and anticipatory grief, that feeling of being out of control can become stronger than ever. When usually we are only in tune with our own grieving and mourning processes, we’re now linked and connected and in tune with the grief and mourning processes of others.

It can feel overwhelming. And the healing process for collective grief doesn’t always look the same as for individual grief, which can make us feel even more unprepared.

The morning of Tuesday February 6th, 2024, as adults snoozed alarm clocks and started our various pre-weekday rituals SOMEHOW (text message, news alert, social media, Wall Street Journal) we were alerted of 62-year-old Toby Keith’s passing. IMPACT. Take away the “celebrity” nuance, this is an individual that meant the world to nonidentical communities (Military and Pediatric Cancer, for example). I live in Oklahoma, it could be argued TK is the most famous native-born, and why his hometown chose to fly their flags at half-mast today. As humans we aim for things neat and tidy. We obsess to clean, judge, organize and put in place. BUT…. grief is not laundry and it’s time….IT’S GIVEN ITS PROPER ATTENTION!

“But you never even knew him,” or “He lived a good life, there are people out there that have it worse,” these comments are SO UNACCEPTABLE!

January 1999, I was a high school freshman when a fellow Tiger, a junior, passed away in a rollover car accident heading to the Friday night boys’ basketball game. BAH was a force! She was a beautiful, confident, and extremely gifted gymnast. She and I probably spoke less than 3 conversations, but it unexplainably rocked me. In high school words, embarrassingly so. I lived in a town populated by 12,000 and my graduating class was around 140. We all knew each other. Her memorial was held in the gym where she dazzled on the balance beam and I played basketball in. I don’t know the factors or percentages:  me being an empath OR my unprocessed guilt from losing my dad two years prior OR my friend, neighbor and classmate being one of the two survivors of that accident, which contributed to my public outcry BUT I was personally affected WITHOUT being one of the top 5,000 people in that amazing individual’s life.

Someone more qualified than me coined the term COLLECTIVE GRIEF. I’ve seen it happen and more importantly, so have our bodies. Therefore, when these things “i.e. TRAUMA” that we have feelings connected to happen AGAIN our bodies say, “OH HELL NO,” even without our permission. Physical symptoms of collective grief can be disorientation, fatigue, headache, and/or chest pain. So that’s fun….you are informed of a loss and then before you have time to evaluate how you think about it your body automatically starts processing.

With trauma, my belief is we need to establish rituals that make sense for us. Which is so difficult, how do we know who we are after the compounded losses of life? Regain a sense of control, even if fleeting, in the chaos. Every time I lose a loved one to cancer it is not feasible, with my life circumstances to run a marathon in their honor, BUT to walk in nature and pray for their soul OR to light a candle with the intention to honor their spirit OR pouring out a drink for your homie…. whatever it is making space, acknowledging, and talking the departed’s legacy is always a right step! 


We all experience grief differently! We also cannot predict what events may trigger our bodies to remember trauma or grief from prior in our lives. GIVE YOURSELF SOME DAY-GUM GRACE!

Rules for Collective Grief:

MOPED – a way of transport from one place to another.

  1. MODERATION – Know when your balloon is too full “overinflated” (ex. I hate that this even exists, but I have a newscaster friend and they don’t love it either, what sort of coverage earns networks the best ratings? Mass casualties, like school shootings) THERE WILL NOT BE NEW INTEL UNFOLDING EVERY SECOND. Turn off the input. Respect your peace. Don’t let your too full ballon backfire into a corneal abrasion.

  2. OPEN UP – Find other people affected and share your thoughts. Even if its at preschool pickup and a mom friend says, “did you see Toby Keith died?” Don’t brush it off, this is a clue they are a safe person to discuss things with, contribute! We never know the conversations that matter.

  3. PUNCH SOMETHING – Metaphorically or REALLY! For people like me this can look like advocacy. The cringe “turn pain into purpose.” But for others that just involves getting out of bed every day and screaming as loud as possible into a pillow!

  4. EMPATHIZE – Grief abides in a world without boundaries. When people you pass are more visibly bothered hold space for them. Shouldn’t we all be uncomfortable by the atrocities of our modern world? It’s normal and healthy to NOT BE OK, just as its normal and healthy to BE OK! Honor your fellow travelers’ journey 😊

  5. DON’T JUDGE GRIEF – Have you heard people that tell kids to stop crying? How does that play out? REALLY??? Feelings need released or they’d be called “internal self-doubt that slowly drives you crazy as you find unhealthy ways to push them down.” It’s ok to feel sad if someone passes, it’s ok to feel angry. You owe no one an explanation, respect your authenticity!

Today I said goodbye to a fellow military enthusiast and someone who also wanted to make the world better by…. SERVICE TO OTHERS. I KNOW….Toby Keith’s soul is at peace knowing he inspired the masses, and love lives on.


Clean out the closet! Do you have unresolved grief lurking in your soul? Is there something you can do to honor your departed’s legacy or put a piece of your soul at rest? Have you felt collective grief? What have you done to honor that?


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